Furry friends for first responders

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First responders face a great deal of stress in their jobs, and it can take a toll on their mental health. That’s why more departments are adding therapy animals to their teams.

Therapy dogs can provide comfort and emotional support by reducing cortisol levels (stress hormone) and can help increase levels of oxytocin (a hormone associated with social bonds and anxiety reduction).

For Glendale Police Department, it began with Oliver. Oliver was purchased under the Federal Victims of Crime Act. The original intention was to have Oliver work with crime victims. When victims were brought in to be interviewed, it was apparent that having a therapy dog present decreased their anxiety. Not only did it make the victims feel better, but it was also found that Oliver had a great impact on the detectives investigating these tough cases.

Oliver plays a crucial role in breaking the ice with children in tough cases and allows them to open up and speak to detectives.

“Oftentimes, our detectives will be able to use the dog to kind of facilitate that conversation because, you know, who doesn’t love a cute little face to kind of start the conversation talking about low-intensity, really non-threatening topics? And then, be able to ease into those harder conversations,” said Melissa Brickhouse-Thomas, Glendale Police Department Manager of Victim Assistance.

Brickhouse-Thomas explained detectives who work on difficult cases might not want to debrief verbally, so instead, they can decompress by spending some time with Oliver, such as taking him for a walk or throwing a ball.

“It’s a way to step away from the trauma that they’re having to investigate and just decompress,” Brickhouse-Thomas said.

According to Brickhouse-Thomas, watching Oliver work is very interesting. He is trained to sense anxiety and will sometimes gravitate to an individual that he senses is being anxious. When that happens, Oliver will either put his head on their leg or lean into them “like a weighted blanket.”

“Just that little bit of lean can help decrease that anxiety reaction,” Brickhouse-Thomas said.

Oliver has been working nearly his entire life as a therapy dog, selected directly from his litter. At just 12 weeks old, the training company selected Oliver due to his temperament and began his training. Oliver is both service and therapy-trained, which took about a year. Oliver turns seven years old in July.

“He’s very sweet,” Brickhouse-Thomas said. “There’s just something about his fuzzy coat and his sweet face and his wanting to lean up on you that just kind of takes the worries of the world away.”

Melissa Brickhouse-Thomas, Glendale Police Department Manager of Victim Assistance
Oliver, Glendale Police Department Therapy Dog

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